Recession-era baby naming, Part 2
Last time I talked about (dubious) claims that the recession is turning baby names back toward the traditional, in a parental "flight to quality." Today, I look at the historical precedent: naming during the Great Depression.
My points of comparison were baby names in 1928 before the crash vs. 1932 at the depth of the crisis. A quick eyeballing shows that the traditional classics fell along with the stock market. John, James, William, George, Mary, Katherine, Elizabeth and Margaret all dropped in popularity as the Depression took hold. Now let's zoom in closer.
Applying the standard Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula, the fastest falling boy's name, by a mile, was...Herbert. That's a clear reaction to the economy, but not in a stylistic way. Parents of the '30s simply decided that Herbert Hoover wasn't a president they'd care to remember. (Let's keep an eye on George in the years ahead.) As a group, the 10 fastest-falling boys' names fell into two categories: namesakes of public figures, and traditional classic names.
And the fastest rising boys of the Depression? They were the boyish ones. Check it out:
That's a whole lotta nicknames, with a late smattering of movie stars (Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman). Even as James was falling, Jimmy was soaring. This could suggest a twist on the "flight to quality" idea: a "flight to comfort." Perhaps in a scary world, we just want to curl up under a cozy blanket with our dear little babies. It makes some sense.
Except those are just the boys' names.
Over on the girls' list, the hottest rising names list brimmed with glamourous sophistication. Top-10 gainers included Marlene (as in Dietrich), Carole (Lombard), Joan (Crawford), and Barbara (Stanwyck) -- a veritable honor roll of strong, stylish modern women. Sandra and Sondra both made the list too, their continental panache a contrast to fast-falling names like Helen and Ruth.
If you want a theory of naming for tough times, then, you'll have to account for cuddly, down-home boys and glamorous, urbane girls. I'll take a stab. To me, the key thing to remember is that names aren't simply reflections of our current reality; they're reflections of our dreams.
Amid the job losses and bread lines of the Great Depression, one industry soared: the movies. And sure enough, reports are already piling up that this recession era is following suit with huge box office tallies, especially for comedies, adventures, and rip-roaring spectacles.
Maybe, then, everybody predicting serious, conservative baby naming today has it exactly backwards. In grim times, we don't want solemnity. We want fun and glamour and excitement, and glimpses of a world far removed from layoffs and foreclosures. We certainly want to envision that kind of sunny future for our children. So bring on the creative, carefree names! Why not? They're free.